Freight Car Friday – Freight Cars of Detroit

21 02 2014

This week’s Worlds Greatest Hobby show comes into familiar territory for Lionel. For many years Lionel’s main offices and assembly operations were just a few minutes north of Detroit and we still have offices in Sterling Heights today.

While cars may still trump rails for notoriety in the Motor City, Detroit’s auto industry (and others) require an extensive network of railroads. Today the city is served by Conrail (Yes, still Conrail!) and Canadian National with a long heritage of famous fallen flags.


Conrail remains a major operator around Detroit serving the remaining automotive assembly plants and other industries.

When Conrail was split between Norfolk Southern and CSX in 1998, there were areas where there was no easy way to divide the routes and preserve competition. Detroit is one of these three “Shared Assets Areas” where Conrail still exists as a terminal switching railroad owned by NS and CSX. Conrail interchanges traffic with both railroads as well as Canadian National’s Grand Trunk.


The Grand Trunk and its autoracks and other cars are still a household name in Detroit.

Most of the current Conrail route traces its route to the New York Central and its predecessors, the most notable being the Michigan Central and Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. A former Pennsylvania Railroad branch and connecting lines from the Detroit Terminal and Union Belt Railway round out the miles. All of these lines were first consolidated under Penn Central and then became part of Conrail.


The Wabash was one of many historic roads with rails into Detroit. The tracks are part of Norfolk Southern today.

Norfolk Southern had another historic route into Detroit before the Conrail acquisition via the old Wabash.

Most domestic traffic moves south from the city to connections with the major east-west trunk lines at Toledo, Ohio or further west at interchanges in Indiana. Heading north into the peninsula, branch lines serve a variety of other industries and deposits of natural resources.


Prior to the days of big autoracks, boxcars like this were the primary means of moving Detroit’s top export.

The Grand Trunk provides an important outlet for goods moving east to Canada (from Detroit most international traffic moves east, not north.) Today’s Grand Trunk includes parts of the former Detroit, Toledo and Ironton which it absorbed in 1981.

The DT&I itself has an interesting history that very much mirrors the boom and bust periods that typify the rest of Detroit’s past. It was for a time owned by Henry Ford, who’s experiment with electrification in 1923 can still be seen in some remaining catenary supports today. The DT&I was then sold to financial holding companies of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It retained its own identity through PRR control and was even given control of the Ann Arbor railroad for a time. The Penn Central bankruptcy changed things and the DT&I went into the hands of private investors for about a decade before being sold to Canadian National.

The names have all changed, but railroads continue to cross the city like a web serving the auto industry and many others. With multiple carriers sharing limited space, operations can still get very interesting around the many yards, crossings and interchanges and the future of the rails here seems secure.


LionChief Plus Hudson

10 02 2014

Leading the charge with the new LionChief™ Plus locomotives is the Hudson. One of the most popular locomotives in Lionel history, this classic example of Super Power steam will be a perfect fit on any layout.

Prototype Background


The production sample of our new C&O Hudson performs as good as it looks!

As passenger trains grew in length and weight in the 1920s, the New York Central found itself in a motive power problem. With its Pacifics limited to 12 car trains, many of its long distance passenger trains were running in multiple sections. A more powerful passenger locomotive was needed.

While many railroads at the time were stretching the Pacific and adding additional drivers for more power, the New York Central took a different course and applied the new “Super Power” concept of the Lima Locomotive Works’ Berkshire. Adding a larger firebox, supported by a four-wheel trailing truck, the Central created the first 4-6-4. Only 5 inches longer than the road’s K-5 Pacific, the new locomotive generated more than 3,800 pounds of additional tractive effort.


The LionChief Plus Hudson is the latest in a long line of Lionel replicas of this NYC icon.

The first 4-6-4 was completed by ALCo in 1927 and NYC President Pat Crowley had the honor of naming her. “Hudson” was chosen after the Hudson River. As if building the first locomotive and naming it weren’t enough, the NYC had by far the largest roster of Hudsons – 195 in total – forever linking this locomotive with the New York Central in the hearts and minds of most railfans.

Twenty other railroads (including NYC-controlled Michigan Central and Boston and Albany) owned at least one Hudson. Primarily a passenger locomotive, they were sometimes seen in fast freight and mail train service as well. The Hudsons served well until the end of steam. Twenty-one survive in museums – unfortunately none of those are from the New York Central.

LionChief™ Plus Hudson


The proportions of these LionChief Plus Hudsons work well with traditional and scale freight cars. Production Union Pacific sample shown.

Your LionChief™ Plus Hudson is ready to go to work on any railroad. With its LionChief™ Remote it can run on layouts powered by the LionChief™ wall pack, a conventional transformer (set to 18V) or a Command Control system. Flip a switch on the locomotive and you can run it conventionally with a transformer as well. (For more information on the LionChief™ Plus control system and how it relates to others, see last week’s blog.)

It’s not just the control system that sets the new LionChief™ Plus locomotives apart. This new Hudson is packed with features normally reserved for our more expensive models. The locomotives include:

  • User selected operation – Conventional AC transformer control or LionChief™ Wireless Remote (included)
  • RailSounds RC™ with steam chuffing and background sounds, whistle, bell and user activated announcements
  • Fan-driven smoke
  • Speed Control maintains a constant speed on curves and grades automatically
  • ElectroCoupler on tender controlled by the remote


    Canadian National had 5 Hudsons, all built in Canada.

  • Operating headlight
  • Maintenance-free motor
  • Die-cast locomotive body, frame and trucks
  • Metal tender frame
  • Lighted cab interior
  • Flickering Firebox
  • Engineer and fireman figures
  • Traction Tires

The Hudsons’ cabs feature detailed backheads, crew figures and a flickering firebox. The drawbar connection to the tender automatically connects the wiring.

The LionChief™ Plus Hudson will be available in Canadian National, Chesapeake and Ohio, New York Central and Union Pacific. The LionChief remote is preprogrammed specifically for each locomotive. You can have one of each on your layout – or any number of the other LionChief™ or LionChief™ Plus locomotives – without a signal conflict.

The new locomotives will retail for $429.99. See your local Lionel dealer to place your order today. The Hudsons should be available by early Summer.

New Product Spotlight – Canadian National Piggyback Set

8 04 2013

Today, intermodal trains are an image of efficiency – double-stacked containers, articulated spine and well cars, dedicated trains  and fast schedules. But it was not so long ago that this service utilized small trailers individually driven onto flatcars and hauled from one ramp to the next.

CN Set

The Canadian National Piggback set features the look of early intermodal.

Our new Canadian National GP-9 Piggyback Set is typical of these early trains. (For more background on modeling intermodal, check out this previous Blog.) Featuring a GP-9 with LEGACY and details specific to the Canadian National and our well-detailed PS-4 flatcars and piggyback trailers, this detailed set is sized well for any layout.


The GP-9 features excellent performance and CN-specific details

The GP-9 included with the set has been given details specific to locomotives on the Canadian National including the exhaust stacks, placement of the bell and more. An additional LEGACY-equipped and non-powered GP-9 to complement this set were released earlier. Features include:

  • LEGACY Control System – able to run on LEGACY, TMCC or Conventional layouts
  • Odyssey II Speed Control
  • LEGACY RailSounds including CrewTalk and TowerCom, six official railroad speeds, quilling horn, bell, sequence control and real-time speed and fuel dialog.
  • Dual motors with flywheels
  • ElectroCouplers front and rear
  • Fan-driven smoke unit
  • Directional lighting
  • Operating marker lights
  • Illuminated cab interior with engineer and conductor figures
  • Illuminated number boards
  • Die-cast trucks, pilot and fuel tank
  • Metal frame
  • Separately applied metal details

Add additional power with separate-sale LEGACY and non-powered GP-9s.

The set also includes three PS-4 flatcars detailed for piggy-back service with two trailer hitches, side rails and movable bridge plates. The cars also feature die-cast metal carbodies, real-wood decks, die-cast sprung trucks with hidden uncoupling tabs and separately applied metal underframe details. A lighted wood-sided caboose brings up the markers.


The set includes seven detailed trailers and a semi to match.

A pair of highly detailed piggyback trailers ride on each flatcar. Two different styles of trailer are included. The smooth-sided trailer comes in both CN’s orange scheme and Canadian Pacific’s green. There is also a pair of trailers with side posts and doors in CN white. A seventh trailer is included with a die-cast semi-tractor. Every trailer features opening doors, adjustable landing gear, flexible mud flaps and a spare tire.

This well detailed set will be at home on many layouts. Run it as a dedicated train or mix the flatcars in with your other scale freight cars. The set will navigate an O-36 curve. Scheduled to ship next month, see your dealers. MSRP is $849.99


New Product Spotlight – Command Control Speeders

5 11 2012

“Speeders,” self-propelled cars used by track gangs, have come in many shapes and sizes. Today, they are as popular to preserve full-scale as they are in models.


6-37066 Maintenance of Way

The speeder, or track car, replaced the hand-powered pumpcars and velocipedes, beginning in the 1920s. The first cars were not much more than a small engine, four wheels and a bench. Often they were home-built in railroad shops. Crude as they may have seemed, compared to pumping your way several miles just to get to the work site, these were a welcome relief to those who used them.

6-37064 CSX

Over time, the speeders evolved into larger and more elaborate vehicles. Roofs, windshields, and eventually side walls enclosed the passenger compartments. Larger cars could carry six or more men. Some speeders had top speeds of more than 40 mph and were often powerful enough to tow an extra cart or two with tools, spikes, etc.

6-37065 BNSF

Starting in the 1950s, the traditional rail-only speeder began to be replaced by larger and more-versatile hi-rail vehicles which could run on both rails and roads. By the mid 1980s, most had been replaced on the larger lines. Today, hundreds of the little speeders have been preserved in museums and tourist lines and by private owners who often gather for excursions.

They are one of the most affordable ways to get into 1:1 scale railroading as a hobby. And while some have carefully restored their cars to the original appearance, others have applied unique paint schemes based on favorite prototypes or complete fancy.

6-37067 New York Central

There are lots of uses for these little cars on your layout. Whether you want to have one for your section gangs to inspect your railroad, or gather a fleet and model a modern excursion, the new Lionel command control speeders will add a fun element to any model railroad. They’ll even look great sitting beside the tracks on a set-out when not in use.

For small cars, these critters are packed with features:

  • 6-37063 Pennsylvania

    Run with Command Control or Conventional

  • Forward and Reverse operation
  • Directional headlights
  • Blinking strobe light
  • Interior light
  • Die-cast metal frame
  • Maintenance-free motor
  • Traction tire
  • Detailed Interior
  • Driver figure

The speeders will negotiate an O-27 curve and come decorated for seven popular railroads past and present and a generic Maintenance of Way scheme.

6-37061 Union Pacific

  • Union Pacific (6-37061)
  • Norfolk Southern (6–37062)
  • Pennsylvania (6-37063)
  • CSX (6-37064)
  • BNSF (6-37065)
  • Maint. of Way (6-37066)
  • New York Central (6-37067)
  • Canadian National (6-37068)

The speeders retail for $149.99 and should ship next month. Pick one up and tour your layout in style!

6-37062 Norfolk Southern

6-37068 Canadian National